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Through 18 Mirrors, Darkly – Webb Telescope Unveils the Universe

November 13, 2022 @ 10:30 AM 12:00 PM

Andrew Rivers, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University, will speak on the topic, Through 18 Mirrors Darkly—Webb Telescope Unveils the Universe.  Since the beginning of humanity’s journey, we have turned our gaze towards the heavens both for exploration and understanding of ourselves.  Since Galileo pointed his homemade telescope at the sky and recorded never-before-seen drawings of his discoveries, images have changed our understanding of the Universe and our place in it.  In the first astronomical revolution, telescopes revealed a Universe unseen by the naked eye.  In the early 1800’s new eyes into the universe were discovered – ultraviolet and infrared light.  These wavelengths, along with radio waves, X-rays and others, revealed wonders previously unseen — a second revolution.  Astronomy has entered a third revolution with the advent of space telescopes.  Since our atmosphere blocks many wavelengths, these new telescopes have given humanity new views into the Universe.  In December 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) successfully launched and, after a six-month commissioning and testing process, opened its eyes to the universe.  A spiritual successor, to the Hubble telescope, JWST sees infrared radiation at a sensitivity and precision well beyond previous capability. In this presentation, Dr. Rivers will present some of the first images from JWST and he will discuss how these images change our understanding of the Universe and our place within it.

Dr. Andrew Rivers joined the Northwestern University Physics department in 1999 and has since taught courses in physics and astronomy including the introductory physics sequence, Modern Cosmology, and Highlights of Astronomy.  Rivers was awarded the Weinberg College Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008 and has been named to the Associated Student Government faculty-administrator honor roll six times. He serves as a Weinberg College adviser and has been active in Northwestern’s Residential College (RC) system, serving as Faculty Master of the Cultural and Community Studies RC from 2004-2009. He assisted in development of the Gateway Science Workshop program in physics and has worked on other curricular innovations within the Northwestern community. Rivers’s Ph.D. research included a large scale radio survey of the so-called “Zone of Avoidance” — his project revealed 20 previously unknown nearby galaxies.

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